Super Bowl Predictions: Why the Saints and Steelers Will Meet in the Super Bowl
The NFL regular season hasn't even ended yet, but I've always been one who likes to look ahead.
The majority of the playoff teams have been decided, and two of those squads are the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New Orleans Saints.
The Saints are the defending Super Bowl champions.
The Steelers won the Super Bowl the year before.
Coincidence? I think not.
These two teams look poised for another run at the NFL's championship game.
Here are 10 reasons (five for each team) why the Saints and Steelers will meet in Super Bowl XLV.
5. Saints: Pass Protection
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Although Drew Brees is not the most athletic quarterback out there, he rarely hits the dirt.
Other playoff teams like the Chiefs (55 sacks allowed), the Jets (53), the Falcons (47) and the Steelers (47) really struggle in pass protection.
But Brees has only been sacked 16 times on the season, which is the fewest in the NFL.
Both of the team's starting guards, Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks, were named to the NFC Pro Bowl roster this year.
They allow Brees to stay upright more than any other quarterback, and that's good for both his health and his chances of completing a bomb downfield.
5. Steelers: Home Field Advantage
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Pittsburgh has been a tough team to face at home for the last several years.
But the Steelers are actually just 5-3 at home in 2010, which isn't great, but is still pretty good.
However, they're in the position to have home field advantage for every game except the AFC Championship this year.
It's still Heinz Field. It's still the Pittsburgh Steelers. It's still January weather.
In other words, it'll still help.
4. Saints: Penalties
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Penalties seem like such a trivial thing...until they cost your team a game or two.
And the Saints have the third fewest penalty yards (647) in the NFL, behind only Buffalo and Tampa Bay.
Let's compare that to some of the other NFC contenders:
Giants: 874 yards
Rams: 938 yards
Bears: 760 yards
Eagles: 769 yards
Falcons: 906 yards
Packers: 712 yards
New Orleans is among the league's most disciplined teams, which could play a much bigger role than you might think come playoff time.
4. Steelers: Turnover Margin
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The Steelers are arguably the NFL's No. 2 team in the turnover department.
Pittsburgh ranks sixth in the league in turnovers forced with 32 takeaways (18 interceptions and 14 fumble recoveries).
They also have the fifth fewest giveaways with just 18 on the season.
That translates to a turnover margin of +14, which is second in the NFL only to the New England Patriots, who are a ridiculous +27.
3. Saints: Drew Brees and the Passing Attack
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Drew Brees has tossed far too many interceptions this season (21), but he's also thrown for more than 4,400 yards and 32 touchdowns.
New Orleans has a plethora of offensive weapons, from rookie tight end Jimmy Graham to Marques Colston to Lance Moore.
Three receivers have at least five touchdown catches (Colston, Moore and Robert Meachem), and nine different players have gotten into the end zone.
The Saints rank second in passing yards (282.8 per game) and 10th in scoring (24.7 per game).
3. Steelers: Rashard Mendenhall
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The unsung hero on the Steelers is running back Rashard Mendenhall.
He's been one of the league's best backs all season, but he hardly ever gets the recognition of guys like Adrian Peterson and Arian Foster.
On the season, however, Mendenhall has rushed for 1,237 yards and 11 touchdowns.
He has three 100-yard rushing games and has also added 22 receptions for another 148 yards.
Perhaps most importantly though, Mendenhall provides Pittsburgh with a running back who can grind it out and kill some clock to keep opposing offenses off the field.
2. Saints: Experience
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The Saints are the defending World Champions.
Last season they outlasted the Arizona Cardinals (the defending NFC Champs), the Minnesota Vikings (the preseason NFC favorites) and the Indianapolis Colts (always a contender) on the way to a Super Bowl win.
New Orleans has also taken down the mighty Falcons on the road this year, and the NFC playoffs will likely go through Atlanta.
The Saints undoubtedly have the experience of playing (and winning) in the playoffs that other NFC teams—like the Falcons—don't.
2. Steelers: Experience
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Correct me if I'm wrong here, but the Steelers are used to winning the big one as well.
Pittsburgh won the Super Bowl during the 2008-09 season and also won it back in 2006.
Ben Roethlisberger was the quarterback for both of those teams, and several players from those squads are still around.
The Steelers have been there before, which is certainly helpful in a loaded AFC.
1. Saints: Defense
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The Saints were once a team that was all about offense, offense and more offense.
New Orleans ranks fifth in total yards allowed (305.5 per game), second in passing yards allowed (191.1 per game) and sixth in points allowed (18.9 per game).
The Saints haven't forced as many turnovers in 2010—they have 23 this season—but their defense has improved in most other areas.
They've held eight of their 15 opponents to less than 20 points and rank sixth in the league in third-down efficiency.
Opposing offenses only convert 34.7 percent of their third-down attempts.
Jonathan Vilma (No. 26 in the NFL) and Roman Harper (No. 42) also rank among the NFL's best tacklers.
1. Steelers: Defense
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The Steelers seem to always have a good defense, and that's been true again in 2010.
Pittsburgh ranks second in the NFL in total yards allowed (280.3 per game), first in rushing yards allowed (64.1 per game) and first in points allowed (14.9 per game).
The Steelers rank third in the league in third-down efficiency—opposing offenses convert just 33.3 percent of third-down tries.
Dick LeBeau's bunch has held its opponents to 17 points or fewer in 10 games this season, James Harrison has 10.5 sacks (12th in the league), LaMarr Woodley has nine sacks of his own and Troy Polamulu is tied for second in the NFL with six interceptions.
Lawrence Timmons (No. 9) and James Farrior (No. 22) are also two of the league's top tacklers.